|Westin Hotels & Resorts offers employees food items from its signature SuperFoodsRx menus to encourage a healthy lifestyle.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—While there are many things hotel companies can do to motivate their employees, corporate wellness initiatives not only put associates’ health at the forefront but also help curtail rising health-care costs.
Alliance Hospitality Management, which has 650 employees, is a self-insured, third-party management company responsible for all the costs and expenses to its owners. “It hits us and our owners,” Barbara O’Cain, corporate director of HR, said.
“We watched the dollars come and go,” she said. “When I first got here three years ago, our health-care costs were high; they were just high.”
One of O’Cain’s first job duties was to manage those costs and find out how to keep them under control. To do this, the North Carolina-based company took a multi-pronged approach, emphasizing a healthier lifestyle as a way to reduce health risks.
“We’ve long understood prevention and employees’ well-being makes sense for employees and business. We have identified health-risk issues. Health-risk reduction and maintenance was critical to our employees,” O’Cain said.
Having a CEO on board also helped motivate employees. “We led by example,” O’Cain said. “Our CEO (and President Rolf Tweeten) is our biggest proponent. He works out every morning. We do try to walk the talk.”
Alliance Hospitality Management
Gary Mendell, former CEO and current chairman of HEI Hotels & Resorts, took a similar approach and became engaged after the management company adopted its consumer-driven health-care model two years ago.
“The important thing about corporate wellness is that the top people have to believe in what’s going on,” explained Holly Lindvall, corporate director of HR at HEI.
Lindvall said that while promoting healthier lifestyles at home and work is the Norwalk, Connecticut-based company’s social responsibility and “the right thing to do,” the impetus for the program was initially financial after management saw gigantic increases in HEI’s health insurance.
Creating winning programs
“We decided that as a company, we wanted to leverage what we already had through our medical plan,” Lindvall explained.
Through Cigna, a global health insurance and health services company, HEI introduced lifestyle management programs such as elder care and 12-week programs that help employees quit smoking, among others.
Recently, the company did a nationwide walking program that lasted six weeks that estimated how many miles each hotel’s staff walked collectively.
When O’Cain started at Alliance, she noticed the wellness program was “overly ambitious.”
“We were trying to reduce tobacco usage. We were trying to focus on the body mass index. We had all these different tiers and programs. We didn’t have the administrative resources to handle that, so we stepped back and only did a couple things.”
Those things also included the help of Cigna, whose wellness philosophy was in tune with what the company wanted. By streamlining Alliance’s program and focusing on tobacco usage, the company was doing something realistic and still reducing premiums. For tobacco users and non-tobacco users, the pricing differential is sizable, O’Cain said.
Using an in-house, Web-based program, Alliance Hospitality employees can take care of their own health analysis and make the proper adjustments.
However, not all hospitality health-care programs focus on the corporate level. The Associate Enrichment Program was adopted nine months ago at Westin Hotels and Resorts to coincide with Westin’s positioning as a wellness brand in the hospitality space. “It not only came to fruition for the guests but the associates, as well,” said Brian Povinelli, global brand leader for Westin.
Westin Hotels and Resorts
Because Westin owns, manages and franchises, there is no standard health-care policy for the entire portfolio. The brand’s wellness program helps Westin’s more than 40,000 associates focus on their health regardless of individual plan specifics, offering tips that go beyond the workplace. Each hotel has an associate cafeteria that integrates Westin’s healthy SuperFoodRx menu items. Some hotels built separate gyms for their employees. And others find associates with a passion for running, Pilates or yoga and have them teach pre- or post-shift classes for their fellow associates.
Povinelli explained that Westin gives general guidelines to management at each individual hotel, but it is each property’s Wellness Champion—“the property service culture trainer”—who takes ownership of the program. “Most of the interesting programs are created out of something (the Wellness Ambassador) is passionate about,” he said.
Although Westin hasn’t seen monetary benefits, Povinelli said the wellness initiatives are preventing injuries. “Some of these hotel jobs are strenuous. There’s an underlying motivation to make our associates healthier,” he said.
To keep employees interested and participating, Povinelli said it helps to create a competitive atmosphere among the hotels. Often, hotels that show how they execute different programs will win a breakfast for the team or New Balance running shoe gift certificates. It’s about “creating excitement and hype for the program,” he said.
“We spend all of these investments to prevent safety accidents in our hotels,” Lindvall of HEI said. “Health insurance is the same way. We spend money to prevent larger increases in the cost moving forward, but we didn’t come to that understanding until two years ago … it was the right time to do it.”
Lindvall said HEI’s 5,500 employees in 16 states understand and support the goal. Since launching, the company has seen significant improvement, with 95% of employees taking health assessments; 85% being referred to support programs; and 37% high/medium-risk employees moving to low/medium status. The program saw approximately $500,000 in estimated medical cost savings in the first year.
“The (return on investment) is a big issue,” but “that’s a hard thing to quantify,” O’Cain of Alliance said. Because Alliance’s program is still new, company management has yet to gauge the specific dollar impact. However, they have noticed a dramatic drop in health-care costs, and anecdotal evidence suggests the programs are working.
“It’s not any one thing or another,” she said, “but the wellness program arches across all of this. We feel like it’s made a difference.”
O’Cain said Alliance has created a culture of health that only promotes a healthy lifestyle but also acknowledges that employees are driven by price points. “They want to do whatever is necessary to get a decrease in health premiums and insurance premiums,” she said. “We use that as a driver.”